Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhino died Monday, marking a grim milestone for a species fast hurtling toward extinction.
Tam, who’d been living in Tabin Wildlife Reserve in the state of Sabah since 2008, had been suffering from kidney and liver disease, Malaysia’s The Star newspaper reported. He’s believed to have died of old age, however. Tam was in his 30s, his caretakers said — considered old for a species with a lifespan of about 35-40 years.
“Everything that could possibly have been done was done, and executed with great love and dedication,” Christina Liew, Sabah’s environment minister, said in a statement of the care Tam received before his death. “His last weeks involved the most intense palliative care humanly possible.”
Despite his age and ill health, Tam had not been a grumpy creature but had been “quite the gentleman,” the Borneo Rhino Alliance said on its website. Tam had a “calm and steady manner,” the group added, though he could be “a bit cheeky at times.”
With Tam’s death, Malaysia, where the Sumatran rhino has been considered functionally extinct for years, now has just one remaining Sumatran rhino — an infertile female named Iman. As National Geographic noted, fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos now roam the Earth, having been driven to the brink of extinction by decades of rampant poaching and habitat loss. Almost all of them live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, while a smattering call Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, home.
The WWF said Tam’s death should serve as a “wakeup call” to the urgency of the plight of the Sumatran rhino, considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Conservationists have been working feverishly to capture isolated Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia to encourage them to breed.
“Tam’s death underscores how critically important the collaborative efforts driving the Sumatran Rhino Rescue project are,” WWF’s Margaret Kinnaird told National Geographic, referring to an alliance of conservation groups that banded together in 2018 in an effort to save the Sumatran rhino.
Sumatran rhinos, the smallest of the living rhinoceroses, are more closely related to the extinct woolly mammoth than the other rhino species alive today, according to WWF. Covered with long hair, the animals are the only Asian rhino that boasts two horns.
Four of the world’s five living rhino species are considered vulnerable or critically endangered. Last year, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya after suffering a severe leg infection. Conservationists have turned to in vitro fertilization in a controversial last-ditch effort to save the subspecies.